The Ida B. Wells Community Academy

National Association of State Directors of Special Education

by Cheryl M. Lange, Ph.D

Summarized by Beverly Parker
Certified Speech Pathologist and IBWCA Special Education Consultant

Special education issues that need to be explored when charter schools begin operation: Szabo & Gerber (1996)

  • Resource available to charter schools to implement the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that requires a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities;
  • Zero Reject "All children are to be afforded an equal education opportunity and states may not deny an education on the basis of a disability" (Fiedler & Prasse, 1996, p. 37).
  • Availability of special education professionals to serve in charter schools and implement the IDEA provisions;
  • Mandated testing and evaluation concerns.
Some key questions need to be answered:

          1. Who is responsible for special education services?

This depends on the state or even the district that the charter school is located. The charter school might be totally responsible for the identification, assessment and delivery of services. It could be the responsibility of the host district or it might be something that can be negotiated with the host district.

          2. How are special education services delivered?

Determine whether the delivery model is aligned with the charter school's mission and goals. Determine what the instructional model will be.

          3. How are special education services funded?

There are specific requirement and procedures for obtaining funding. There is cost associated with testing and evaluation. There is cost associated with the type of disability., e.g. classroom aide, technology devices, etc. 

Essential elements of special education programs to be considered by charter schools

  • Identification
  • Referral 
  • Assessment and reassessment 
  • Individualized education program (IEP) planning 
  • Instructional delivery of programs
  • Staffing
  • Facilities
  • Parent involvement/due process
  • Personnel development
  • Interagency relations
  • Transportation
  • Instructional resources
  • Coordination with other educational programs
  • Fiscal resources
  • Governance
Laws pertaining to school choice and special education

There are no laws or decisions that cover the relationship between special education and charter schools because of the relative newness of these schools but there are four principles of meaningful choice that should be followed to be in compliance with the laws previously stated and they are:

          1. Disability status can not be used as a criterion for noneligibility in the choice program. [Section 504];

          2. State education agencies and school districts involved in choice must recognize that their obligation under both Section 504 and the IDEA to provide eligible children with FAPE [free appropriate public education] cannot be abrogated by allowing parents the latitude to choose schools. [16 EHLR 554, 1990];

          3. Reasonable steps must be undertaken to ensure that the choice system as a whole makes available a broad range of specialized services and programs to provide FAPE. [Alexander v. Choate]; and,

          4. Procedures used for parents to elect choice must not create any diminishment of the procedural rights guaranteed under either Section 504 or the IDEA. [1 6EHLR 554, 1 990].


What is the philosophical orientation of the school toward serving students with disabilities?

  • Are opportunities available for students with disabilities to receive services within the innovative model available for students without disabilities?
  • Can charter schools use their independent status to create innovative models of special education service delivery within the scope of !DEA?
How will the staff identify and serve students with disabilities?
  • Who is responsible?
  • How will students be evaluated
  • What role will the host district play in the identification?
  • How will charter schools deal with IEP's written by another school or school district?
  • Who is responsible for serving students with disabilities? What steps must charter schools take to ensure that appropriate services are provided to students with low incidence disabilities?
  • Who pays for the services?
  • How will transportation needs be met?
  • What personnel certification and licensure issues need to be considered?
  • Can charter schools serve only students with special needs?
  • Can charter schools receive waivers for certain special education requirements?
  • What if the charter school has individualized learning plans for all students? Do they still need to complete an IEP?
  • What if a charter school is not an appropriate placement for a child with a disability?
  • What if the child's special education needs change after enrollment in a charter school?
Is the charter school legally liable in the area of special education?
  • Parents must give consent for the initial evaluation and initial placement, be notified of of any change in placement, be invited, along with teachers, to conferences and meetings to develop the IEP.
  • Parents have the right to initiate a due process hearing to challenge a decision regarding identification, evaluation, or educational placement of their child.
  • Parents have the right to examine their child's educational records. IDEA confidentiality requirements are modeled after those in the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974.
  • School systems will carry out a systematic search (child find) for every child with a disability in need of public education.
  • Clear communication to parents that this education is provided without cost to them.
  • Evaluations are not based on a single testing instrument.
  • Emphasis must be placed on educating children with their non disabled peers to the maximum extent appropriate (NICHCY, 1991).
Disabilities as Defined under IDEA:
Glossary of Special Education Terms

Assessment: Process of collecting data to make decisions about students.

Autism: Developmental disability significantly affecting verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, and educational performance; generally evident before age 3.

Category: In special education, a grouping of exceptional students who are thought to share certain characteristics. Although professionals attempt to standardize the names and definitions of categories, there is significant variation from one state to another.

Child-study Team: Group that determines a student's eligibility for special education and develops an individualized education program (IEP); typically composed of teachers, other representatives of the school district, and the child's parents.

Communication Disorder: Impairment in speech or language that interferes significantly with a person's ability to communicate.

Deaf-blindness: Category used to provide services to people who are deaf as well as blind. In the federal definition, deaf-blindness refers to "concomitant hearing and visual impairments that cause such severe problems that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.

Deafness: Absence of functional hearing in both ears. In the federal definition, deafness means a hearing impairment so severe that the student is "impaired in processing linguistic information through hearing" and the student's educational performance is adversely affected. 

Direct Services: Services in which special education personnel (including special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, and other professionals) work with students to remediate difficulties or to provide enrichment or acceleration.

Disability: Medical, social, or learning difficulty that interferes significantly with an individual's normal growth and development.

Due Process Clause: The part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that forbids states from depriving anyone of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

Education for All Handicapped Children Act (1975): First compulsory special education law; mandates a free and appropriate education for all students with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21. Also called Public Law 94-142.

Equal Protection Clause: The part of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that guarantees "equal protection of the laws" to all.

Exceptional Students: Students who require special education because of their special learning needs. Exceptional students can have disabilities or be gifted and talented.

Federal Definition: Definition of a term derived from U.S. government laws or regulations guiding provision of services to students with disabilities; many current federal definitions are included in the Individual with Disabilities Act.

Hearing Impairment: A hearing problem that adversely affects a student's educational performance.

Inclusion: Educating exceptional students regardless of type or severity of disability in regular classrooms in their neighborhood schools. Also known as full inclusion.

Indirect Services: Services provided to regular classroom teachers and others to help them meet the needs of exceptional students; also called consultative services.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): A written document that includes (1) a statement of the student's present levels of functioning, (2) a statement of annual goals and short-term objectives for achieving those goals, (3) a statement of services to be prided and the extent of regular programming, (4) the start date and expected duration of services, and (5) evaluation procedures and criteria for monitoring progress.

Individualized Transition Plan (ITP): Part of the individualized education program that specifies services to be provided to aid a student's transition from school to adult life.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (1990): A reauthorization and renaming of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act; also includes a definition of transition services and specifications for individualized transition plans.

Learning Disability: Disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or using language; may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do mathematical calculations. Often identified by discrepancy between expected and actual achievement. Also called specific learning disability.

Least Restrictive Environment: Educational setting as much like the regular classroom as possible.

Mental Retardation: Significantly sub average general intellectual functioning that exists concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior, manifests itself during the developmental period, and adversely affects the individual's educational performance.

Multiple Disabilities: Combination of impairments causing educational problems so severe that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs designed solely for one of the impairments.

Orthopedic Impairment: Deficit in movement and mobility resulting from a congenital anomaly, disease, injury, or other cause and adversely affecting educational performance.

Other Health Impairment: Deficit in movement and mobility resulting from a congenital anomaly, disease, injury, or other cause and adversely affecting educational performance.

Prevalence: Number or percentage of individuals evidencing a condition at a given time.

Referral: First step in determining a student's eligibility for special education; process of requesting information or a professional evaluation to decide whether a student is eligible for special services.

Related Services: Supplemental services provided by trained personnel to help a student benefit from special education; these services include psychological testing and counseling, occupational therapy, school health services, and transportation.

Resource Room: Room to which a student goes for part of a school day to receive special instruction or help with regular classroom work.

Serious Emotional Disturbance: Condition in which a student exhibits one or more of the following characteristics over a long period and to a marked degree, adversely affecting educational performance; an inability to learn that cannot be explained by intellectual, sensory, or health factors; an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers; inappropriate behaviors or feelings under normal circumstances; a general pervasive mood of unhappiness or depression; or a tendency to develop physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems. Also called behavior disorder.

Specific Learning Disability: See learning disability.

Speech or Language Impairment: See communication disorder.

Traumatic Brain Injury: Acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in functional disability, psychosocial impairment, or both, and adversely affecting educational performance.

Visual Impairment: Vision problem that, even with correction, adversely affects a student's educational performance.

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